By Suehaila Amen
August 14, 2018
If only we could pay our bills with the opinions of people.
It is a struggle; do not let them get to you
I have been traversing the sea of people’s nasty attitudes and insecure comments for many years. There are days when I feel like I am caught in an episode of Mean Girls.
There will be people who tell you that you do not matter. Others will seek ways to destroy your self-confidence or damage your spirit.
Do not listen to them. They do not matter. Only the One matters.
We Are Our Own Worst Enemy
Often, it is our own over analysis and ability to negate the goodness in life that brings undue negative energy. Yes, we can do it to ourselves and without realizing it, we do it often.
Life and the chaos within it can be consuming. We have all been there.
The routines of life, school, work, family, and extracurricular activities can consume us. Too often we neglect our health, family, responsibilities, and spirit.
Our mental and spiritual well-being are vital to our existence and growth.
As I navigate the various spaces of my life while living abroad, I realize that I am often disappointed in myself.
These disappointments stem from my failure in truly embracing my faith and following it in the way my heart tells me I should.
Making excuses for our sins is easy. We find them readily available when discussing our transgressions. I cannot keep hiding from reality.
I struggle to maintain a strong Islamic spirit in Lebanon. In all honesty, I felt my convictions were stronger and more rooted while living in America.
This frightens me.
“My Lord forgive and have mercy, for you are the best of those who show mercy,” Holy Quran, 23:118.
Struggling to maintain my Islamic principles in every aspect of life has had its moments of difficulty. Tears of sorrow and repentance have flowed while in prayer, reminding me that my heart maintains hold onto the rope of faith.
I continue to push through the moral negativity that can encompass me and remind myself that God is with me on my journey and will not leave me alone.
I have faith in this.
What happened to me?
While sitting at an outdoor concert in Beirut not long ago, I had an overwhelming feeling of loss consume me. In a sea of people, I felt alone. So alone.
“How did I get here?”
For the last several years, I had barely listened to music or been in that type of setting.
While driving I would listen to recitations of supplications, Islamic music (Maher Zain and Sami Yusef), or Tarab (old school Arabic music like Fairouz, Um Kalthoum, and Abdel Halim Hafiz).
I only stayed for the duration of weddings of family members or people closest to me. Otherwise, I left after dinner. It simply became a way of life and I was happy with it. I felt at peace.
Then Satan crept in and I would find myself in those environments, randomly.
My spirit felt stronger when I removed myself from situations I felt were no longer appealing to the way I wished to conduct my life.
The temptation was strong and the whispers of Satan, even stronger.
Not being afraid to have boundaries
Knowing that the environment of music and parties was far from what my heart desired, I began putting boundaries.
When friends would push me to go to an Arabic nightclub or concert, I felt that inner struggle begin.
Finally, I began to put my foot down. Feeling compelled to entertain people was not going to push me back into a lifestyle I no longer desired.
If they wanted the party, they could go without me. I had no problem staying behind.
Thankfully, I have no regrets for pushing back against societal pressures and the whispers of Satan.
Being away from the ugliness found in these environments brought my heart more peace. I knew I made the right choice.
Jihad Al Nafs (Struggle of the Self)
At times, I feel at an emotional loss.
During these moments, my internal jihad (struggle) is evident, on my face, in my words, and my actions. Jihad of the Nafs (self) is real. It tests every aspect of who you are.
(To understand more about Jihad and its meaning, without taking it out of context, click here.)
We do not often admit these feelings to others. Always reassuring people that we are fine when they ask of our well-being.
“Alhamdulillah, all is great,” cue the smile.
Though, at times, things are not as great as we claim them to be.
Far From Perfection
I will never deny that music and dancing were a big part of my adult life. I seemed to regress during my 20’s.
As a child, growing up in a strict Islamic household in the 1980’s and 90’s, we did not listen to music or attend weddings. You would always find dad outside a banquet hall, pacing until the Zeffe (wedding entrance) was complete.
We attended Islamic studies, conferences, and seminars. Our focus was our Lord, Islam, and maintaining God-consciousness.
As I delved into my mid to late 20’s, I began exploring the world of outings and entertainment. I made excuse after excuse, releasing frustration upon frustration, only to feel a void open where another was filled.
You could find me out every weekend, like clockwork. I enjoyed the nightlife and allowed it to become a habit.
The light in my heart for Allah never dimmed. Due to this, I struggled with each moment and felt the cloak of guilt each time I walked out of my home.
Praying before heading out for the evening or making dua before closing my eyes to sleep after the evening’s activities, God was always present and reminding me to come back to Him.
Can We Find Balance?
Shia scholar and Christian-Muslim relations professor, Dr. Mahmoud Ayoub, noted in his book, Islam: Faith and History, “the goal of true jihad is to attain a harmony between Islam (submission), Iman (faith), and Ihsan (righteous living).”
How much am I willing to remove from my life to attain this harmony?
Will it be that difficult to find a balance in this life?
Are the pressures of this material world more influential on my soul and environment than the love of my Creator and Lord?
I ask myself these questions and find myself lost deep in thought.
Reaching a strong state of God weariness is important to me. More important than I ever thought.
At times I find myself struggling to find the right place to cast my anchor in pursuit of that state of being.
Will it be easier for me here in the Middle East, or in a western society?
It Is Ok To Not Be Ok
It is ok to not be in a perfect mental and spiritual state each and every day. We all have our moments.
Though, when does the time come where we share those moments of confusion and need for clarity?
Who do we turn to for guidance, understanding, and compassion?
There are scholars who have left me disappointed. Their actions, approach, and ability to articulate Islam to me in a manner I can absorb and implement into my life always fell short.
Turning to people who are like-minded helps to calm the raging emotions and rising self-doubt.
I struggle to yield some of these feelings I have with people who do not understand my connection to my faith or desire to be closer to my Creator.
Talking to people who have walked a similar path has provided me with clarity and helped to further my self-awareness.
These conversations allow me to process the questions I have and seek the answers I need that are rooted in faith and God.
“And Say: My lord, Increase me in knowledge,” Holy Quran, 20:114
What are you doing to help yourself heal? Who are you reaching out to when you need some clarity?
For me, finding people who love Islam and God as much as I do has helped me to stay focused on this journey. Our shared love for faith, God, and an Islamic way of life help to allow for easy dialogue and understanding, especially when questions arise that need answers.
Turning to God
So remember me; I will remember you,” Holy Quran, 2:152
These are the moments that I realize how important it is that I turn to my Creator.
No matter how insignificant I may feel at times, I will always be significant to my Lord.
The Compassionate, Merciful, Ever-lasting and Beneficent, it is only HE that can ease the loneliness or relieve me of the weight of life’s burdens.
Keeping my heart open to God, I have increased my dua (supplication) and asked Him to keep me focused on my faith and to increase me in knowledge and patience.
“Indeed, my Lord is the hearer of supplication,” Holy Quran, 14:30
Do not be ashamed to struggle on this journey.
These lessons will propel you closer to achieving what you desire.
The road will not be easy and it will be laced with doubt, uncertainty, and heaps of temptation.
Be self-aware and conscious of your surroundings, peers, and the environment you are in so that all are conducive to allowing your spiritual and intellectual growth.
It will not be easy; though do not allow the worldly desires of others to sway your desire to be closer to God. This is YOUR journey, not that of a friend or family member.
I ask that Allah (swt) increase us all in knowledge and faith and make us among the believers.
InshāAllāh (God-Willing) those seeking the same love and closeness to God, as I sincerely want in my life, will find it.